Seven Simple Rules to Create a Fear Based Culture

Posted 07.29.2010

Boss-yelling Thanks to the readers of this blog, I've collected a really excellent list of things to do if you're a leader who wants to create a culture of fear in your organization. Not that the readers and commenters are suggesting that you actually do these things. Unfortunately, though, a lot of them have been on the receiving end of these behaviors and have witnessed the negative results. Sometimes these results are, as I wrote in a recent post, Fear Kills, matters of life and death. Most of the time they're not. (At least not immediately.  Working in a stress inducing, soul sucking environment is never good for one's life expectancy over the long haul.)

So, with the idea in mind that a good way to learn leadership is to do the opposite of what really crappy leaders do, here is an edited list of readers' suggestions for seven simple rules for creating a fear based culture:

1.   Kill the messenger.  When someone brings you bad news, let them know through your spoken language, your body language, your tone of voice that you can't handle the truth.

2.   Thank the messenger and then ignore them. Give them a figurative pat on the head when they point out a problem and then go right ahead and do what you were going to do anyway. In no time, people will learn that you really don't want to hear it.

3.   Ignore the people on the front line. Better yet, make it impossible for them to get the real story to you.  After all, they're only the ones that are closest to the customers and the competition.

4.   Let your insecurity run rampant. The troops love it when you do.  Show them how insecure you are by micromanaging their every decision or move.  Explode in rage when they do something without checking with you first. Pretty soon, they'll be paralyzed with fear and nothing will happen without your personal involvement.

5.   Defend yourself no matter what.  If someone has the temerity to offer you some constructive feedback, give them at least three reasons why they're wrong. Let's get real; they don't know what it's like to be you and deal with the pressure you're under.

6.   Tease them until they cry.  Well, maybe not until they cry, but what's wrong with them if they can't take a joke?  Your position of power makes you even funnier than you were before you were a boss.  If you really want them rolling in the aisles, make jokes about job security.  They love that.

7.   Keep them guessing. Create an air of mystery about what mood you're going to be in today.  Benevolent dictator or ruthless tyrant? Only your lackeys will know for sure. Everyone else will be on pins and needles about how to act around you until you spring the mood of the day on them.

I know what you're thinking – only seven rules?  There are way more than seven. These are just the ones that were inspired by reader comments. (Thanks everyone.) We all have our favorite rules for creating a fear based culture. What's your favorite?